Russia Bans Lithuanian Dairy Amid Eu Tensions

Greenpeace activists hold portraits of those detained on the boat Arctic Sunrise during a protest in Moscow October 5, 2013. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

DEMONSTRATIONS Greenpeace said it was holding up to 100 protests in about 48 countries on Saturday to call for the detainees to be freed. In London up to 700 people demonstrated outside the Russian Embassy with six Britons among those arrested by Russia. Actor Jude Law, who knows one of the arrested Britons through his children’s school, was among the protesters calling for Russia to release the detainees and condemning the charges of piracy as “ludicrous”. “They go into these situations often expecting arrest and the arrests draw more attention which is a positive but … the possibility of a 15-year prison stretch is beyond reason,” Law told the BBC. Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague has raised the case with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. Officials said Britain’s concerns were based on “consular” issues of welfare. The Dutch government contests the “unlawful manner” in which the ship was intercepted and is seeking the release of all its passengers, who include 28 activists and two freelance journalists. Greenpeace says the activists had been engaged in a peaceful protest in international waters to highlight the environmental risks posed by drilling in Arctic waters. The group says Russian officials boarded its icebreaker and detained activists at gunpoint after the group piloted motorboats toward an exploration vessel working for Russia’s top oil producer, the state-controlled Rosneft, and global major ExxonMobil. Two activists also scaled the side of the Gazprom-owned Prirazlomnaya platform, actions Russia’s Foreign Ministry said threatened security.

Greenpeace vigil for ‘Arctic 30’ held in Russia, as Dutch file legal case

Russian authorities made the arrests after two of the activists left the Greenpeace icebreaker Arctic Sunrise and tried to climb the side of an oil platform owned by the Russian energy giant Gazprom in the Barents Sea. Greenpeace has condemned the Russian action, saying its activists were taking part in a peaceful protest against the “slow but unrelenting destruction of the Arctic.” The group has called on supporters around the world to stage candlelight vigils Saturday, holding signs saying “Free the Arctic 30,” to highlight the plight of those detained. 2012: Russia’s big Arctic oil ambitions All 30 people aboard the ship, including 28 activists and two freelance journalists from at least 18 countries, were charged last week with piracy. Meanwhile, the government in the Netherlands — where the Arctic Sunrise is registered — wrote to the Dutch parliament Friday to say it has launched legal action aimed at freeing the 30 under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea. “With regard to its detention of the ship, Russia invokes its authority to ensure safety at sea in the vicinity of the oil platform,” Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans wrote. “The Netherlands agrees on the importance of safety at sea, but in this case we contest the lawfulness of detaining the ship and its crew.” The “arbitral procedure” it has filed focuses “on what the Netherlands views as the unlawfulness of boarding and detaining the ship and on our demand for the release of the ship and its crew,” it said. “Under this procedure the Netherlands can in two weeks, if insufficient progress has been made, request the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to prescribe provisional measures for the release of the ship and its crew.” This would not interfere with Russia’s ability to pursue criminal proceedings against the 30 people, Timmermans said. Two of those detained are Dutch nationals, both of whom are receiving consular assistance. The defendants also include Americans Peter Wilcox, who is the captain of the Arctic Sunrise, and Dmitry Litvinov, who Greenpeace says also holds Swedish citizenship. Greenpeace ship captain defies orders, Russians resort to towing The other detainees are from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Britain, New Zealand, Ukraine, Russia, France, Italy, Turkey, Finland, Switzerland, Poland, the United States and Sweden, the group said. None of those charged last week pleaded guilty, Russia’s Investigative Committee said. If convicted, they could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. Lawyers acting on Greenpeace’s behalf have filed appeals in court seeking the defendants’ release, Greenpeace said Thursday. Greenpeace International’s General Counsel Jasper Teulings said Friday he welcomed the Dutch government’s “strong stance in support of the rule of law and the right to peacefully protest. Russian officials will now be called to explain their actions before an international court of law, where it will be unable to justify these absurd piracy allegations.” Russian authorities accuse the defendants of trying to commandeer the platform.

Lithuania also pointed out that it could — but would not — impose the same sanctions on goods travelling over its territory to and from Russia’s western exclave of Kaliningrad. The veiled warning outraged Russian officials, who on Saturday vowed to ban some Lithuanian dairy imports effective Monday. “There is every likelihood that Russia will begin limiting the admission of individual groups of dairy products on October 7,” news agencies quoted Russia’s public health inspector Gennady Onishchenko as saying. “At the start of next week, we will launch a series of measures aimed at halting the admission… of Lithuanian products that do not meet Russian legal requirements aimed at protecting consumer rights.” ITAR-TASS said Russia has already imposed some import restrictions on Lithuania’s top cheese producer Pieno Zvaigzdes. Russia first warned it may ban Lithuanian dairy imports on Wednesday due to “sanitary and epidemiological risks”. Tests on Lithuanian food products had “yielded unsatisfactory results”, Onishchenko said at the time. The dairy industry, which is responsible for about one-fifth of Lithuania’s agricultural production, is a vital source of export revenue. Moscow’s restrictions would be especially painful because the Russian market accounts for about 85 percent of Lithuania’s total dairy exports. The nation of three million, which hopes to swap its currency for the euro by 2015, is keen to avoid any economic shocks that may derail those plans. It has also sought the defence of larger European countries by promoting a united EU stance against Russia’s trade bans. Moscow has frequently been accused of using import restrictions as a weapon against ex-Soviet countries seeking greater independence or warmer relations with the West. Russia has slapped trade sanctions on Moldova and Georgia during those countries’ attempts to set up a process for their eventual membership in the European Union. It has also twice cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine and waged brief energy wars with Belarus. Lithuania’s dairy industry already faced Russian restrictions in mid-2009 when local milk and cheese producers expressed fears of being squeezed from their own market.